What was the Victorian era? When was it? And what was the era known for?
When Was the Victorian Era?
The Victorian era marks a period in history, applicable to the United Kingdom and its overseas Empire, that began at the start of Queen Victoria’s rule on June 20, 1837, and ended with her death on January 22, 1901. The period is broadly noted for marking a distinct movement away from the rationalism prevalent in the previous decades toward romanticism and mysticism. Also notable, the Victorian era was considered a period of political liberalism. Nonetheless, a class-based social structure still persisted throughout the era.
Many historians will refer to the mid-Victorian period of 1850-1870 as the “Golden Years” for British progress. At the time, Britain had firmly established a world-wide trade network and held key territories across the globe, such as India. Due to its position of clear global dominance, Victorian era Britain was referred to, in different variations, as “the empire on which the sun never sets.” Meanwhile, a financial boom brought on by the Industrial Revolution ensured that the average income almost doubled while taxes were kept low, allowing for the environment of political liberalism that allowed the period to flourish.
The young queen assumed the crown at just 18 in the wake of rapid change brought on by the Industrial Revolution. Rural unemployment was high and people were moving en masse to larger towns and urban centers. Technically, Victoria held less power than many British rulers who came before her due to the recent formation of the British Parliament. As such, she served primarily as an advisor to parliament, and the rest of her duties were symbolic. Nonetheless, she is known to have been a highly respected and cherished leader.
What Was the Victorian Era Known For?
Liberal Politics took center stage during the Victorian era, which saw the emergence of many well-known populist movements such as liberalism, socialism and feminism. Meanwhile, Britain was considered the world’s undisputed superpower at the time, and exploration and international conquest remained big on the agenda throughout Queen Victoria’s reign. Scientific progress also made giant leaps, particularly in the field of medicine. An increased number of hospitals sprung up across the United Nations, as well as the first asylums and workhouses.
While Victorian art and architecture tends to be rather conservative in nature, many remarkable writers emerged during this period including Oscar Wilde, Charles Dickens, and the Brontë sisters. The spirit of the Victorian age is indelibly captured in the many remarkable works of fiction that they produced. As a result, the novel would, for the first time, replace prose as the leading fiction genre. Meanwhile, general literacy rates during the Victorian era also jumped, and the practice of journalism gained popularity as well.
Yet another defining characteristic of Victorian era England was the increased popularity of leisure and travel. Due to the bustling economic conditions in the heyday of the period, people had money to spend on leisure activities that were once only reserved for the elite, and the building of railroads marked the popular emergence of beach vacations. Meanwhile, sports also became more popular, and the larger cities often hosted races and football matches.
Day to Day Life in the Victorian Era
Even during the heydey of the mid-Victorian era, class divisions and poverty were still very much present. However, people of all classes idolized the family life the much beloved Queen shared with her husband Albert and their nine children. As a result of the economic boom, the middle class found their pockets full of money and needed something to do with it; therefore, there was an unprecedented demand for commercial goods and leisure activities.
A typical Victorian era middle class family was likely to be sporting all the latest fashions, own designer tea sets and cutlery, and have nothing but the newest toys for their children. In order to further boost their freshly acquired wealth, they would also be likely to hire a servant or two, and as such, it is not surprising that by the turn of the century, almost a third of British women between the ages of 15-20 were working as servants.
However, the Victorian era was not all butterflies and roses. For the working class, many of the abhorrent factory conditions that marked previous centuries persisted throughout the reign of the beloved queen. It would not be until the end of the Victorian era in the early 1900s that diversions and leisure would become accessible to all social classes, rich and poor alike.
Did you like this post? If so, you might enjoy these others from the Sporcle Blog:
Also make sure to check out Sporcle.com, where you can find thousands of fun history quizzes, like the one below!